THE Lebanese Consul-General for Sydney, Robert Naoum, is understood to have left Australia and is unlikely to return after a warning he would be arrested if he failed to turn up at a court hearing.
Mr Naoum is believed to have returned to Lebanon indefinitely and his official position is being filled by another staff member sent from the Lebanese embassy in Canberra.
A warrant for his arrest is now in the process of being issued after he ignored an order to appear in court over legal and court expenses he incurred in a failed defamation action against a Sydney journalist.
Mr Naoum’s argument that he had ”diplomatic immunity” and so did not have to pay those costs had been dismissed by the Local Court. Magistrate David Heilpern had said it would be ”grossly unfair” as it was Mr Naoum who had dragged the journalist, Nabil Dannawi, into court.
The court had found Mr Naoum was not acting within the scope of his official immunity.
A judgment of debt of more than $50,000 has been incurred by Mr Naoum for Mr Dannawi’s legal fees.
Representatives of the Lebanese embassy declined to comment on Mr Naoum’s departure.
Mr Dannawi’s lawyer, Michael Lee, from Mitry Lawyers, said the firm had been instructed to continue with bankruptcy proceedings against Mr Naoum, even if he was not in Australia. A bankruptcy hearing is set down for later this year.
Mr Naoum’s troubles began almost two years ago when he unsuccessfully took defamation action in the Supreme Court to stop Mr Dannawi’s Arabic website, www.alankabout.com.au, from publishing material about him, which he argued was defamatory and threatened his safety.
The website likened Mr Naoum to a mafia leader, and accused him of being a Zionist supporter, a spy, hypocritical, conceited, narcissistic and possibly a bully.
However, he lost the defamation case. The court rejected Mr Naoum’s claims, saying the ”unstructured and irrelevant rantings” on Mr Dannawi’s website were not defamatory.
Mr Naoum appealed to the NSW Court of Appeal but lost again and had costs awarded against him.
Arguments by Mr Naoum’s barrister that the court should grant him immunity from the debt in the interest of good relations between Australia and Lebanon also failed.
Mr Naoum has appealed against this decision to the Supreme Court.
Lawyers for Mr Naoum did not return calls from The Sun-Herald on Friday.